Tanzania: New Bill Seeks to Criminalise Politics - Parties

Dar es Salaam — The Political Parties Bill seeks to effectively criminalise politics by introducing jail terms for perceived offences that are related to day-to-day operations of political parties, opposition leaders said yesterday.

Speaking at a joint news conference, the leaders of nine opposition parties said they reject the Bill because it would kill democracy and cause chaos if passed.

The parties - Chadema, ACT-Wazalendo, CUF, UPDP, DP, CCK, Chaumma, ADC and NCCR-Mageuzi - also signed a declaration condemning the Bill, which was tabled in Parliament for the first reading on November 16. Chaumma chairman Hashim Rungwe said criminalising politics would be a flagrant violation of a constitutional right.

"This Bill is totally unacceptable. We call upon the people to reject it. It intends to take us back to the dark days when even basic liberties were denied," Mr Rungwe said when reading the declaration on behalf of his fellow opposition leaders.

The leaders also decried what they said were excessive and arbitrary powers that would be vested with the registrar if the Bill is passed and signed into law.

"This proposed law seeks to effectively change the role of the registrar of political parties from a regulator to a controller of political parties," Mr Rungwe said.

The Bill, if passed, will make it possible for the registrar to influence internal party elections. It also seeks to give the registrar the authority to request for any information from political parties and their members. Failure to provide information requested by the registrar will be an offence.

The Bill also seeks to give the registrar legal immunity from litigation for any decision taken in line with the proposed law. "Why are they intent on preventing political parties from suing the registrar? Is there no sinister motive in this?" queried Chadema deputy secretary-general (Zanzibar) Salum Mwalimu.

Additionally, the Bill seeks to give the registrar the power to strip party members of their membership.

"Here they are not interested in ordinary members...this is just a smokescreen The people they are really targeting are opposition leaders. If they want to get rid of any opposition leader, what the registrar will do is simply strip them of their membership and that will be that," Mr Mwalimu said.

He added that Section 5(a) of the Bill seeks to make it mandatory for anyone wishing to conduct civic education or capacity-building training for a political party to seek the registrar's permission.

"Does it make sense that we must seek the registrar's permission whenever we want to train our cadres with regard to our participation in elections? This is not right!" Mr Mwalimu said.

The Bill is intended to replace the Political Parties Act of 1992, which restored political pluralism in Tanzania. Mr Rungwe said the Bill seeks to legalise the "current crackdown" on the opposition, including the ban imposed on political rallies in 2016.

"This Bill is intended to legalise this government's crackdown on political liberties. We will not accept that," he said.

ACT-Wazalendo party leader Zitto Kabwe said it was strange that the Bill seeks to ban foreign funding of political parties while both the government and the ruling CCM rely heavily on foreign assistance.

"A big chunk of the Ministry of Education's budget comes from the World Bank and Canada. CCM receives a lot of money from the Communist Party of China, and yet they have the temerity to come up with such a law," he said.

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